Having to do with drilling, melting glaciers, and wildlife in the region around the north pole
The Arctic region is an area of concern for the United States, where actions are overseen by the Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs, which is part of the US Department of State. Under international law, the territory doesn’t belong to any one nation.
Ice melt, increased human activities, and wildlife are all topics for consideration in the region. We’ll explore who is responsible for protecting the region, what issues it faces, and what solutions could be found.
The Arctic Council
The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental forum that addresses any issues in the Arctic Region. It was created in 1996. Its members are all of the eight Arctic States, which means any nation with a coastline next to the Arctic. They are the US, due to Alaska’s coast, Canada, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, due to Greenland’s coast, Finland, Sweden, and Russia.
Topics under consideration include environmental protection and sustainable development. The chair of the forum rotates between the members. Work is carried out by appointed officials. Several agreements have been signed in the history of the Arctic Council concerning search and rescue operations, marine environment care, and oil pollution prevention.
Indigenous peoples’ organizations participate in the Arctic Council. They have consultation rights for any decisions and negotiations made by the eight Arctic States. While changes in the region affect all of us, involving the people indigenous to the region is important to take local knowledge into account and respect them. Part of the council’s responsibility is to improve the lives of the people that live there.
Permanent participants include:
- Aleut International Association
- Gwich’in Council International
- Arctic Athabaskan Council
- Inuit Circumpolar Council
- Saami Council
- Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North Pole
Science and Research
The Arctic Council signed an agreement to facilitate scientific cooperation. Scientists from each member nation have access to the region, with clear documentation of entry, exit, and equipment used. Research infrastructure and facilities are shared. In the US, the work is overseen by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Objectives include observing systems to document climate change. Physical changes that are part of the research include:
- Warming ocean
- Melting permafrost
- Warming soil
- Altered characteristics of Artic cyclones
- Changes to vegetation and animal abundance
- Warming air temperatures
Findings suggest that changes recorded in the Arctic will have implications that reach beyond that region. One result of global warming is that the ice caps could melt. The results could be
- Lost habitats
- More heatwaves in other parts of the world
- Sea levels rising significantly
- Damage to crops due to unpredictable weather
- Release of methane, a harmful gas that increases global warming
For the council to function effectively, observer members are essential. Intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) act as observers and hold the eight Arctic States and their actions to account.
Defending US Interests
Since Alaska borders the Arctic, this large stretch requires US resources. The Coast Guard and the Department of Defense invest time and budget in defending the waters.
As ice melts, new trans-Arctic routes could become available for commercial shipping. As well as being potentially risky routes that might require emergency help, increased traffic will pose threats to security and increase pollution.
Fish stocks are also a concern, and changes in the region could impact the fish and protected species living in the waters.